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Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts in Decline

Your research paper could begin: The word "liberal" in "liberal arts" does not have anything to do with our current political parties. In fact, a traditional liberal arts education is common in some conservative Christian educations. The phrase "liberal arts" came from the ancient Greek idea of how a citizen ought to be educated so he could be of benefit to society. In that time, the liberal arts were only Grammar, Logic, and the analysis of Rhetoric. These were the things the Greeks thought a free man ought to know, thus the term "liberal" as in liberty. In Roman times, four more topics were added: mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music.

Today, "liberal arts" refers to the broad-based education one gets at a traditional four-year college. It is different from a vocational education because it does not prepare the student for a particular career. Instead, its goal is to make the student a well-rounded person who has the intellectual background to make good decisions in many areas of life, such as career, family, and civic responsibilities. Some of the subjects typically studied in a liberal arts program include history, literature, math, philosophy, the sciences, religion, languages, psychology, and political science. Some places also have students read the "Great Books" (books that are seen as the foundation of Western Civilization), but this is not so common anymore. Students today are more interested in vocational preparation than intellectual growth.

Liberal Arts in Decline

The liberal arts have seen a decline over the past decades, as educational funding and administrative goals take a front seat, with the less quantifiably beneficial studies being sent back. The plight of Liberal Arts today may be best summed up by changes in attitudes toward the humanities, which may be inevitable but also thwarted by an irreversible change in direction towards the more technologically orientated studies. The only institutions that will survive the challenges presented to the humanities will those institutions that have "the courage to re-imagine and reinvent themselves and so find a place of intellectual and social relevance on the beachhead of the twenty-first century".

Liberal arts degrees have been subject to change well before the new millennium, with American colleges and universities dealing with the social, economic and cultural challenges brought by major financial fluctuations, periods of and innovative education policies like the GI Bill. While higher education has managed to adapt to these changes, the most current trends present even greater challenges. The changing attitudes toward the humanities has also been demonstrated in the trend toward actually removing the literary works of predominantly white European authors from humanist courses to be replaced with the works of more contemporary and diverse authors. This trend is the result of a new focus on the works of women and ethnic minorities, which have been largely ignored in academia.

There are at least four "currents" of change that are influencing the academic environment and ultimately the attitudes toward the humanities. They are:

  1. Technical
  2. Intellectual
  3. Fiscal
  4. Demographic

Although major denominators of change, they are not singularly capable of transforming traditional modes of education. Together however they have the capacity for calling into question whether or not a liberal arts degree is "genuinely relevant" in education today. Technology and communications are the new drivers of education however the researcher also suggests that they are not enough to provide the most effective education.

Humanities and Liberal Arts

In your research paper you can discuss that the earliest examples of discourse on a liberal arts degree in the last decade offered hopeful and viable alternatives to the traditional delivery of the humanities, and which were largely in response to the attitude that the humanities did not broadly recognize the humanist input of many American citizens. A review of the more recent literature on attitudes toward liberal arts suggests that the attempts to reform the liberal arts have failed to increase its importance in the academic environment and in society as a whole. At the same time, there is little incentive in professional esteem or substantial wages associated with careers in the humanities, conditions that have further reduced its popularity.

Unfortunately, the humanities have taken a back seat to the academic demands of students who want an education that prepares them for immediate success in careers that are currently widely available and that offer substantial wages. Unless students are prompted to consider the humanities for the primary and traditional objective of broadening intellectual horizons, it is fair to assume that it will not be broadly embraced as a degree of choice. More importantly, unless the resources are made available to tendering those scholars that are capable of revising and revitalizing the humanities, the decline of long-established disciplines like the humanities will continue. Fluctuating educational environments like these are a condition that calls for a stronger emphasis on the purpose of learning.

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